Whatever you may think of the opinions of the politicans who stood on the stage at the recent GOP presidential debate, it was stunning to hear the audience break into applause at the mention that more than 234 persons have been executed in the state of Texas during Governor Rick Perry's tenure. An audience of soccer moms and suburban middle class folks (a good many of who, I presume, attend church most weekends) cheered the killing of 234 persons? Really?
Study after study shows serious problems with the way that the death penalty is carried out. Cases of mistaken identity are not that unusual (which led the State of Illinois to halt executions), and there is evidence that some innocent persons have been put to death. Studies show the penalty is applied disproportionately so that minorities are more likely to receive this most extreme of all penalties. Some who should know also say that capital punishment does not serve as a significant deterent to violent crime. Finally, the cost of applying the death penalty -when you factor in legal appeals that often go on for years- can exceed the expense of putting an individual in prison for life with no possibility of parole.
Oh, there is one more thing: it seems impossible to me for a Christian to cheer the death penalty while claiming to follow Jesus Christ. Jesus said we are to turn the other cheek when struck. Jesus told his disciple to put down the sword. And Paul encourages us to overcome evil with good.
Truth is I believe Christians are called to be pro-life. For me that means opposing the death penalty and opposing abortion in most cases. It also means supporting government policies that will enrich the lives of children and encourage a republic where there is life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue happiness.
Long ago Baptist preacher Will Campbell, who has been friend of the Black Panthers and served as a chaplain to the KKK down south, was asked to go on public tv to debate the death penalty. Will listened to a proponent of capital punishment make a lengthy opening statement, and then Will simply said, "I think it's tacky."
I don't know what it says about us that a washed up, well dressed room full of middle class and upper income types cheer the death of 234 individuals. Maybe it says we are afraid. Maybe it says we have somehow lost the connection between our political views and our souls. The next time Christians are tempted to cheer the killing of men and women they might want to open the New Testament, hang out with Jesus, and listen for the voice of the Galilean.